Riding with the wind. When I'm sad, she comes to me.
With the thousand smiles, she gives to me...

Fly on my little wing.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Grand Rapids Tri

The Grand Rapids Triathlon was my first real test for the season, and for that matter my first longer event since recovering from my knee injury. My tri buddy Dave Smith (we're both doing IM Lake Placid this July) turned me on to the race, knowing it would be a good test point for fitness leading up to July and the only early season half ironman distance race within a reasonable driving distance.

We had some family friends that just so happened to live one mile from the starting line, thus allowing for the best accommodations I will every have for any race. Ever. The race started at 7:00am. I woke up at 5:45, did my pre race prep including my traditional breakfast of Strawberry Pop Tars and Ensure Plus and rode to transition at 6:20. The best benefit of my accommodations: not having to wait in line for a porta potty. I set up my gear feeling a bit hurried, which is how I like it so there is no time for anxiety to build up. I found Dave, chatted about strategy and was in the front for the start.

The swim was uneventful, I lost contact with Dave early on and I cruised the rest of the way through it, having pretty good feel for the water despite neglecting my swim training in the past months. I exited in 32 minutes and change, pleased with that time and focused on a smooth transition, despite having to run what seemed like 400yds on pavement that was anything but smooth. I mean I don't have Hawaiian Feet.

Coming into this event I had the most confidence in my cycling fitness so my plan was to push the bike and see what happened. This was also the first time I was racing with my power, having got a Powertap G3 last fall. I wasn't really trying to focus on a goal wattage, just trying to keep the power spikes down, race by feel and check out the data at the end.

I knew Dave was up the road so I tried to settle in, find my cycling legs and "work my way to the front". I caught Dave maybe 20ish minutes into the bike and we legally paced each other, catching a few guys as we went. Approaching the turn around I believe I was in fifth place, and about 6 minutes down to the leader. Just after the turn I got passed and made the move to stay with this guy. We pushed the pace a bit, which always carries risk but I had made my mind up I was here to throw down. We finished the bike together and exited T2 within seconds of each other.

I was trying to settle into my run, but at the same time it's a race and you don't want to loose contact with your competitors for the mental aspect. We ran together, exchanged a few words and learned his name was Chris and he was from Canada. For the first bit of the run I was trying to feel out how good of a runner he was, just trying to keep it steady and look strong.

But to be completely honest when I got off the bike and started to run legs were hurting more than they should. Apparently today the Thunder Thighs had lost some thunder. I could tell I had pushed the bike a bit and this run was going to hurt. As the first mile marker came up I hit my watch 5:40, thinking to myself, "That can't be right. I must have started my watch at the wrong spot in transition." So I tried to settle into a realistic pace, at the same time trying to balance racing this guy. Mile 2 hits, 5:55, a pace I've held for an Olympic distance run, but never for even in a stand alone half marathon. Just try to stay cool. Mile 3 hits, 5:52, we're still running together. Long ago I realized this was going to be an excruciating run. Now I decided it was going to be a breakthrough performance or an epic implosion for the ages

I tried to front load damage control with some calories at every aid station, but that's kind of like trying to fill a leaking car tire with 20g CO2 cartridges. Two more 5:55s and then I started to loose contact. There was no major move, Chris just slowly pulled away and I was already at the red line. At this point I don't really know what place I was in, but I knew we were getting close to podium spots. Did I mention top three get money? From there it was 6, 6:09, 6:26... Grabbing calories at every aid station. Coherent enough to notice the weird looks from aid station workers every time I dumped ice down my pants to cool off. But soon it was back to survival mode. "I think that guy was ahead of me on the bike, but I don't really know. Ah this sucks, I feel terrible!"

There are points in any race where the mind and the body battle each other. These battles are what make the longer races most challenging for me, the conflict rages for a longer period of time, back and forth. There are more chances give into the hurt. But also, in a sense all the extraneous crap gets stripped away leaving an utterly simple battle between quitting or continuing to hurt yourself.

Every time I can push to and hold that red line, go deeper into the pain cave or ride the Highway to the Dangerzone, it's easier to go there next time. I guess it is not really easier, but in a sense reassuring or almost comforting that you've been to this familiar place before, this time we'll go a little further and see what happens.

So back to the race, which was the deepest I've had to go to date. More than Kona, maybe because it seemed like there was more on the line, more to prove to myself. The entire run hurt and I had that battle with myself through almost all of it. Usually in races I have a few miles where I feel "good." With the run course being multiple loops, late in the race it's hard to tell who the competition is and what place you're in. All I knew was I was close to the podium spots and Chris was about 20 seconds up the road, but for the life of me I couldn't close that gap.

At this point smaller goals get made. Don't slow down between mile 9 and 10; then "5K to go. You've ran 5K like a million times."

Then two to go, "Shit I really hope there is no one running up on me. Don't show them how much I hurt. Don't show how vulnerable I am right now." 

One to go, "OK risk exposing yourself and sneak a glance back just to see if anyone is there. No... Shit there's still a whole mile to go. There's Chris up the road but there's nothing I can do, the tank has been beyond empty for a while."

"That's the finish line. Wow I've never had to dig that deep, but I went there and survived." I crossed the line in 4:16, good enough for third place overall. I was ecstatic! Even though Chris had outran me by less than 30s I knew I left it all out on the course, pushed myself to a new level and had a great result because of it. Also I was more than on track for the big goals for Lake Placid. Now I will rest up for a couple days. Then get back to work.

Race Stats:
4:16.21-Third Overall
S-32:23 (1:32/100yd)
B-2:21 (According to Joule GPS-57.3 Miles; AP 234w; NP 240w; AVG 24.4 mph, CAD 92)
R-1:19.38 (AVG 6:05)

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